This week our theme is the bare branches. There was a woman I met in a nursing home. She was very ill, on oxygen, and sitting in a chair staring out the window at a steel gray November sky. I thought she must be so sad, she is dying and she’s never going to see summer again, and all she can see is this bleakness of November. I walked in and sat on the corner of her bed expecting to hear a lament from her, but instead a light came to her eyes and she said to me, ‘even the bare branches are beautiful.’ It made me stop and ask myself, am I looking at life the same way she is? Am I seeing the beauty or just seeing the darkness and despair? That is often the way it is in nursing homes, you think everyone is just waiting to die, but instead they are often more fully alive than the rest of us. You can see it in their eyes, their spirits are right there to see and sometimes they glow.
The rhythms of nature teach us so much, If the leaves stayed on the trees all winter, the tree would suffer a lot of damage or even die, when the wind and ice comes. The leaves are there for a purpose to provide nutrition, increase photosynthesis, protection. But leaves, like us all, have a life cycle. As one of my favorite hymns says: ‘we blossom and flourish like leaves on a tree, and wither and parish but naught changeth Thee.”
We change and grow. Branches remind me of hands spreading out, reach up, growing, growing toward the sky. It is from these growing branches that the tree reaches up and out.
Often when a tree is full of leaves it looks round and full and beautiful. But when the leaves fall off you see the skeleton of the tree, it’s branches going every which way, full of character, showing growth, twists and turns. A bare spot that a wind storm destroyed, a place where the branches decided to grow into each other. These twists and turns create the character of the tree.
And sometimes if you are in the right place at the right time, the branches themselves awesome. There are the evenings when you’re driving west as the sun is setting and you catch a glimpse of the branches in your rear view mirror and you almost stop in awe because the branches look like they are on fire, red streams from the setting sun on the branches and makes them alive, a bright crimson, lighting up the night. Or there are times when you are driving on a morning after there was freezing rain and then it snowed, and the sun comes out, and the icy/snow coated branches glitter like morning diamonds all around you and you are in an enchanted land. It takes your breath away.
Yes, even the bare branches are beautiful. And if we are lucky or present enough to see the beauty in bare branches on a bleak November day, then we are truly seeing with the eyes of the heart.